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Microchip mania

By Kyan Wang Nov. 10, 2022

The tech industry is one of dizzying innovation. Insurmountable obstacles are crossed in the name of profits time after time. Nowhere is this more visible than in the semiconductor industry, where competitors have pushed the boundaries of microchips to their physical limits.

The transistor is the most instrumental part of a microchip—the semiconductors control the electric current passing through the circuit. Billions of these devices populate a chip, and the size of these transistors is still shrinking. Two years ago, researchers hypothesized that the transistor had reached its minimum size. This would have put an end to Intel co-founder Gordon Moore’s observation that the number of transistors on a microchip would double every two years, dubbed “Moore’s Law.”

Just as all hope seemed lost for Moore’s Law, Dutch corporation Advanced Semiconductor Materials Lithography Holding (ASML) revolutionized semiconductor manufacturing with extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography machines, which print miniscule transistors on silicon wafers at sizes not previously commercially available.

So far, ASML has been the sole supplier of EUV machines due to their complexity and the resources the company invested since 2006. Droplets of tin are superheated to create plasma, which releases X-rays in the form of EUV radiation. These X-rays have an incredibly high frequency, etching patterns 20 atoms wide into silicon.

The $200 million machines are in demand, with major players in the industry putting them into use. Notably, Apple’s new line of central processing units (CPUs), Apple Silicon, contains the highest commercially available transistor densities, successfully employing Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company’s (TSMC) EUV microchip factories.

Although EUV technology is remarkable in its ability to push the boundaries of transistor sizes, it has its limits. According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, silicon cannot conduct electricity at transistor sizes under ten silicon atoms due to a phenomenon called quantum tunneling. Although this prediction has been made many times in the past, Moore’s Law seems to be nearing its end.

In retrospect of this ambitious undertaking, one thing is for certain: when companies smell profits, they will deliver. In chasing EUV lithography development, companies spent immense resources. If we can make solving pressing issues in our world profitable, companies will take action.


About the Contributor

Kyan Wang

staff writer

Kyan Wang is a sophomore at Leland High School and the Tech Columnist and staff writer for The Charger Account. In his free time, he enjoys wasting away on his computer and running.

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